CONTRIBUTED BY LEAH WILLIAMS
Editor’s note: Leah recently PCSed to Okinawa with her 13-pound dog, who was small enough to fly in-cabin on a commercial flight to Seattle and then on the Patriot Express to Okinawa. We hope her experience with gathering documentation and preparing for the flights will help those of you on your way here!
One of my main concerns when we received orders to Okinawa was: “How are we going to take Cooper?”
Cooper is my 13-pound, spoiled Maltipoo, who has major anxiety when it comes to traveling. It is so bad we have to medicate him before we go on road trips. Of course I started thinking, “If he gets so stressed out over a six hour car ride, how is he going to survive a 12-plus hour plane ride?!” Then I started looking online and got totally overwhelmed by all of the confusing paperwork involved. Let me reassure you at the beginning of this story, my dog and I arrived safely and stress-free to Okinawa. Now, I will try to break down the process and my experience for you:
1. The first thing you need to do is get in touch with your vet. I had been told to go to a vet on base because they are familiar with the paperwork and required documentation. I cannot recommend that advice enough! I was living in Charleston, SC so I went to the Air Force Base to start the paperwork.
2. Have your dog microchipped. I had Cooper microchipped through the SPCA, but that type of microchip is not compatible, so he had to be microchipped again. This process is simple and not a big deal. The microchip needs to be done before the rabies and FAVN testing (more on the FAVN testing to come). The microchip number must be annotated on the Rabies Certificate, the Health Certificate, and the FAVN test result form.
3. Make sure your dog is current on their rabies vaccine. You must be able to show documentation that your pet has had two rabies vaccines in his/her lifetime. The most recent rabies vaccine must be given no less than 30 days and no more than 12 months prior to entry to Japan. You must have a rabies vaccination certificate, which is military form DD2208 as proof of the most recent vaccination. The two most recent rabies vaccinations must be documented on the Health Certificate (DD Form 2209, more on that to come). Again, the Air Force vet was very familiar with this process, which took a ton of the guesswork out of things. I am not kidding you when I say that Cooper received about 3 rabies vaccines within the past year!
4. Once the rabies vaccines are complete, your pet must get a FAVN test. This is basically a rabies titer (blood test) to make sure your pet is protected against rabies. The vet will do this and mail off the blood sample to be analyzed. In turn, you will receive a letter stating your pet’s titer level (which needs to be less than 0.5 IU/mL). Remember that the microchip number needs to be on the FAVN letter test result in order to be accepted. This FAVN blood test needs to be done at least 180 days before arrival in Okinawa. If you are going to be in Okinawa before the 180 days, then no sweat, but those remaining days are considered your “quarantine” days. If you live on base, you are allowed to do a home quarantine, meaning your pet can stay with you at home and doesn’t have to be kenneled.
5. The final thing you have to worry about is the health certificate. The health certificate must be issued no more than 10 days before your arrival to Okinawa. Also, keep in mind that when traveling to Okinawa you lose one day. This health certificate is DD form 2209 if you go to a military vet. Again, please just go to a military vet because it makes things SO much easier. I was told that if I was not able to go to a military vet for the health certificate, I could go to a civilian vet. With that being said, I would have to have the civilian health certificate endorsed with some sort of raised stamp by an office of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). I looked into this option, but typically there is only one USDA certified vet in the state and it was not a convenient location. I also recommend making at least 5 copies of each pet document, just in case.
Once I finished all the paperwork my main stress was wondering how Cooper was going to behave on the plane. He was going to be flying in-cabin, therefore under the seat for hours on end. I talked to the vet about giving him Acepromazine because that is what I give him in the car for his anxiety. The vet told me as long as he was flying in-cabin, it would be fine to medicate him. He advised me not to give him more than the normal dose, but to just give him doses as the previous pills wore off.
For the first plane ride, I flew United Airlines and I believe the cost was $125 (from the east coast to Seattle). I purchased a soft carrier to hold Cooper, and there were no problems with the airline approving that carrier. Cooper did extremely well with his first flight, so that eased my anxiety a ton!
Once in Seattle, we stayed in the airport overnight before boarding the Patriot Express flight to Okinawa. We had to check in for our Patriot Express flight between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., so I felt that there was no point trying to stay in a hotel. Upon checking in, I had to provide the airline with Cooper’s vet paperwork.
Once we went through the check-in process, everything else was simple! I did have to pay another fee for flying with a pet on the Patriot Express, which I believe was around $100. We had one super long flight that we both survived with no problems and Cooper slept the entire way. There were two stops before arriving in Okinawa and at both stops, they allowed everyone to let their pets out of their crates for some exercise and a much-needed bathroom break! Once we arrived in Okinawa we were both so relieved and excited to have reached our final destination! The airport personnel handed me a folder instructing me that I had 72 hours to take Cooper in to see the vet for a checkup appointment.
There you have it! That was my experience flying with Cooper. I was thankful he was small enough to fly in-cabin and he ended up being a good sport about the long journey over here! Try not to get too discouraged or overwhelmed with all of the steps involved; it’s really not as bad as it seems. Please feel free to ask me any questions and safe travels to you all and your furry friends!